Prospect season continues as Fangraphs has given us another prospect list to talk about, this time in the release of the ZiPS top 100 prospects list. If you’re unfamiliar you can read more about ZiPS at Fangraphs, but to make it short it is a purely statistics-based projection system. This is not the most reliable metric given the insufficiency of advanced data at the minor league level and the unpredictability of player development, but it is a nice tool to compare the development pace of some players in the system. ZiPS likes quite a few of Atlanta’s prospects more than traditional scouting with six of Braves players landing in the Top 100 and a surprising number one prospect.
The top prospect on ZiPS for Atlanta is right handed pitcher Bryce Elder, who checks in at number 40 overall. Elder is the 7th highest-rated pitcher on the list. Elder is exactly what ZiPS tends to favor as a prospect as a low-risk pitcher who is almost certain to contribute at the major league level within the next two seasons. Elder put up a 2.75 ERA across three minor league levels last season, including concluding the season at Gwinnett with a 2.21 ERA across seven starts. Elder doesn’t get praised for his raw stuff, but he was able to post a strikeout rate over 27% at each level and phenomenal batted ball numbers, with the tick up to a 13.6% walk rate at Triple-A being the major red flag.
Coming in just below Elder is Kyle Muller, who ranks at 43rd overall and as the 9th best pitcher. Muller had a strong season at Triple-A and a decent major league debut and has shown consistent positive development with his peripherals as a professional player. The most reliable metric for a starting pitcher at the minor league level is strikeout rate and Muller has managed to improve that each full season as a professional with a high water mark of 27% in 2021. His walks hold him back from ranking higher on this and traditional lists, but he still showed improvement in that front with a drop from 14.5% walks in 2019 to 12.2% in 2021.
Shea Langeliers checks in at 50th overall, a full 20 spots above his traditional Fangraphs ranking, and is 6th among catching prospects according to ZiPS. This should not be a surprising ranking at all as Langeliers had a phenomenal season at Double-A, especially for a catcher. Langeliers hit 22 home runs for the Double-A South Champion Mississippi Braves while putting up fantastic metrics throwing out baserunners behind the plate. His .240 ISO was fourth in the league among qualified batters and among players in the top 10 of ISO he had the second lowest strikeout rate. His strikeout rates would be considered worse than ideal for a projection system and with that you would like to see higher walk rates, but neither of those fall into major red flag territory and are overshadowed by his fantastic power numbers.
We take a bit of a jump here down to 84 where we find right handed pitcher Spencer Strider. The 22 year old was the statistical darling of the system last season with world-beating strikeout numbers, though presumably inflated walk totals as well as a lack of Triple-A experience impacted his projections. Still, there is little to complain about from Strider from a statistical standpoint with the majority of his time being spent at Double-A where he posted an absurd 35.3% strikeout rate. On the flip side his walk rate clipped over 10% at 10.9% and his high fly ball rate (48.2%) contributed to a number of balls going over the wall against him. His low innings load hurts his overall profile for projections as he only had 66 above A ball, but if he carries the absurd strikeout rate to the Triple-A level he is likely to rank very highly on this list if he hasn’t already graduated from eligibility.
Michael Harris ranks at 89, and he was the most notable exclusion from Fangraphs’s traditional Top 100 list. Harris likely came very close to that Top 100 list, and among the center fielders in the ZiPS list he ranked 10th. This ranking is notable in that it is difficult for High-A level players to make this list due to the difficulties projection those statistics and this hints that the most reliable metrics favor Harris. Harris’s ranking was definitely impacted by his early inabilities to draw walks, but once he turned that corner mid-season he finished with a strong strikeout rate of only 18.1% and a solid walk rate of 8.3% and a walk rate over 11% in the second half. His lack of power production and high ground ball rates hurt him statistically, but he made up for it in some ways with a line drive rate over 25%.
The final Atlanta prospect to make the ZiPS top 100 list is Cristian Pache, who ranked in at 92nd overall. Pache’s lack of offensive development makes this not surprising in the list, and I’m actually a little bit surprised he managed to stay on the list at all. A late season surge pushed Pache to a 100 wRC+ at the Triple-A level, which is certainly not bad for a 22 year old with elite defense, but the projections aren’t going to like the increase in strikeout rate to 27.5%. While there is reason to believe there are aspects of Pache’s development that haven’t been completely captured by his performance this season, there’s plenty of reason for anyone, let alone a computer, to be concerned by a spike in strikeouts with a relative increase in walks, power production, or batted ball quality. Still, a ranking of 92 is by no means bad and underlines a bit that some of the talk of his lack of performance has been overstated. Overall he’s still on track to be a major league contributor, although the likelihood of him being an impact player has been reduced significantly.